Unconventional Family Fun: My Mom’s Birthday Party Riding the White Rim 

Since we moved into the van, my partner Andrew and I have spent every spring and fall in the canyon country surrounding Moab. This year, our parents joined us so we could share our favorite place.

My mom has a tradition of choosing a bucket-list adventure for her birthday each year, and my glowing review of the White Rim loop intrigued her. We decided that two 50-mile days to complete the route as an overnighter would fulfill the physical challenge that my mom seeks for her birthday bucket list while still allowing the time to take it all in. My mom wasn’t the only one excited to ride the White Rim. My dad and Andrew’s dad are both avid cyclists as well, so they were invited along for the White Rim birthday party too. After obtaining a permit in the fall, we started our planning with a shared spreadsheet including gear, food and logistics. We all prepared and trained to get ready for our untraditional version of family fun.

When my family arrived in Moab, we spent the day packing bikes with camping gear and food. In the evening, we made a trip out to the viewpoint at Dead Horse Point State Park and looked down into the surrounding canyons. The vast and beautiful landscape holds a special place in my heart. I could identify roads and canyons I’d traveled before. I pointed out a bit of Shafer Trail and the White Rim that we would traverse in just a couple of days. As we kept looking and the sun set lower in the sky, we each noticed new canyons and layers of rock. A new revelation every minute. I was so excited to share this place and this incredible ride with my parents.

The advanced permit system meant that we were locked into the date we chose in the fall, so when a heat wave came through the weekend of our trip, we upped our water capacity and left some of the extra clothing layers behind. Satisfied with our final setups, we crammed five people and five bikes into our van and drove down to the parking lot at the top of the switchbacks on Mineral Bottom Road. When Andrew suggested checking out the view from the top, my dad responded, “I think I want to leave that as a surprise!” No need to look down the massive climb and have that in your head the whole ride!

Our first thirty miles were easy and less scenic than the rest of the route, but it made for a good warm-up before the more challenging terrain. After a couple hours of pedaling, we made it to the top of Shafer Trail, arguably one of the most spectacular viewpoints of the route. We descended as a group, stopping at several switchbacks along to take it all in. When the descent finally ended and we had to pedal again, the sun felt hot. Once we found a rock that provided a sliver of shade, it was time to stop for lunch. Then like lizards, we kept moving until we found the next shade. A backhoe provided a break from the sun in an otherwise shadeless landscape. Not knowing whether we’d have shade at camp, we took an extended stop, napping around and under the equipment. Refreshed from a quick sleep and plenty of water and snacks, we continued on another couple of hours to our designated campsite at Gooseberry.

High fives and a feeling of accomplishment was followed by a nice long sit under the juniper tree in the site. We each walked out to the rim of the canyon, admiring the interesting hammer rock formations below. The red rocks contrasted with the snow-capped La Sal mountains was a beautiful sight.

While we initially planned to cache our own water, our friend Kody serendipitously was in town and interested in driving the White Rim in his Tacoma with his wife Jenny. Kody and Jenny arrived at our campsite just after we did with water, beer, coke, and a birthday cake to boot!

Worn out from the long day of riding, we went to bed as soon as the sun went down.

The morning of our second day on the trail started with coffee, of course! Though we split the mileage in half, the second part of our trip would include more difficult terrain, so after breakfast, we packed up for an early start. We stopped religiously each hour to eat a snack, attempting to stay ahead of any potential bonks or dehydration from the heat. Of course we stopped to take lots of photos too!

The first major challenge of the day was Murphy’s Hogback. While the climb isn’t terribly long, it sure is steep. And in the exposed sun, it took quite a bit of effort to ride and hike to the top. Though the climb was difficult, we could see how far we’d come along the road zigzagging in and out of inlets along the White Rim. We all took a moment to enjoy the view and catch our breath. The feeling of accomplishing a challenging feature and the awe we experienced from the beauty of the landscape was multiplied from experiencing it together.

Shade was harder to come by that day, but we were able to sit in the shade of a juniper tree for lunch just before we entered a more exposed section. Despite the exposure to the heat, riding high above the Green River has got to be my favorite part of the route. Riding in the desert with the view of the river is absolutely magical. It seems that humans are programmed to think water is beautiful, but in a place where it seems so unlikely, rivers become even more striking to me. At that point, I was in charge of the camera and I got plenty of “photo intervals” in, riding ahead of the group to capture a shot of red rocks and the Green River.

As the road trended down into the river valley, we took advantage of the rare shade provided by cottonwood trees for our late afternoon nap. Knowing we had two more decent climbs ahead, taking a break to cool off, eat more food, and drink plenty of water would make the rest of our day feel easier. Once we all felt refreshed, we rode a short distance to the start of Hardscrabble, where we’d have to ride and hike up a loose and steep climb. The climb didn’t come without the reward of more panoramic views and a fun descent back down.

Our timing was just about perfect for the very last climb up to our van on Mineral Bottom Road. As we ascended the road, the sun lit up the canyon walls and it just kept getting more and more orange until we finally reached the top just before sunset. Accomplishment, relief, and exhaustion hit us all as we packed bikes back into the van.

The day after we completed our loop, we returned to the same viewpoint at Dead Horse Point State Park. This time, as my parents stared into the abyss, they could experience the same deeper appreciation and awe for the vastness of the impressive landscape, having propelled themselves through it. What an accomplishment for all of us.

The shared experience of awe creates such meaningful moments in life, and when it’s with people who are most important to me, it’s truly a moving experience. So to my parents, Andrew, and Dan, thank you for creating the experience of shared awe. Let’s do it again soon.

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